You’ve probably heard tons of success stories about Filipino craftsmen who are making their names popular abroad. Names like Winifredo “Wini” Camacho—the top designer of German carmaker Mercedes-Benz for their E-class; international renowned furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue; and of course, who would ever fail to remember the premier Filipino painter and sculptor, Juan Luna?
As one hears these prestigious names, one can’t help but think: are artists born or taught? For many years, this has been an argument of many scholars and even in the media, which up to this time continues to be discussed. But before we arrive at a conclusion, let us first take a closer look at the life of talented Filipino self-made artist ‘Tatay Carlito’ that changed our perception towards craftsmanship.
Meet Carlito Romanillos
Tatay Carlito, as he is fondly called by his family and friends, is a 52-year old driver who was raised and born in Oslob, Cebu City. Because of family hardships, Tatay Carlito couldn’t finish high school. Both of his parents are farmers. At an early age, he learned how to attend to their crops and plants to sell in the market. He has eight siblings—five boys and three girls. Tatay Carlito is the fifth child of the Romanillos.
“Mahirap lang po talaga buhay namin kaya first year high school lang po ang aking natapos.” (We really had hard life back then, and that’s the reason why I ended up finishing first year high school only).
“Naala ko nung bata pa ako, pangarap ko na maging abogado o kaya engineer kasi mahilig po ako magbutingting,” Romanillos said. (I still remember growing up that I wanted to become a lawyer or an engineer because I love to fix things).
DISCOVERING HIS GOD-GIVEN TALENT
Growing up, Tatay Carlito’s life was considerably different when compared to normal kids. Instead of playing and focusing on his studies, Tatay Carlito was busy helping his father in the farm. During breaks, he would create toys made of wood and sell it to his friends to earn additional income. He knew that there was something special in creating toys made of wood.
In 1979, he decided that he would go to Manila and try his luck in the Big City. He told us that he found work as a construction worker, painter, and package boy in a supermarket in Quezon City. During those early years in Manila, he learned how to drive.
“Nung lumuwas po ako ng Manila naisip ko po yung pagkakataon na makatulong sa magulang at kapatid ko,” explained Romanillos. (When I first arrived in Manila, the first thing in my mind was to help my parents and siblings).
Just like any kid, Tatay Carlito wanted to pursue his dreams. He understood it would be a gargantuan task back then.
CHASING THE BROKEN DREAMS
For 34 years, Tatay Carlito drove a car. He worked as a family driver of a businessmen based in Manila to help his family. But Tatay Carlito knew his dream wasn’t over yet. He knew that there was something special with those crafted wood he made back in the province. So, he pursued and worked hard to achieve his dreams.
From crafting pieces of art made of wood, Tatay Carlito shifted to more detailed and intricate aluminum wires. His perseverance allowed him to create his first own masterpiece—an aluminum wire Adam and Eve design. That was the birth of his craft which allowed him to evolve and create various kinds of mobility sculptures, from cars, to bikes, and even airplanes.
“Nung nasubukan ko po makagawa nung sasakyan gamit yung aluminum iba po talaga yung naramdaman ko. Para pong bumalik ako sa panahon nung maliit pa ako na gustong-gusto kong magtapos kaya lang mahirap lang kami,” shared Romanillos.
(After I finished on the aluminum wires for cars, I felt a different feeling afterwards. I felt like going back to the time that I really wanted to study and finish my school, but I couldn’t because of our meager finances).
MOVING FORWARD and GOING FURTHER
Even during his years as a driver, Tatay Carlito didn’t stop chasing his dreams. In 2013, he made several designs in the form of cars and bikes that went viral. Thanks to the help of Internet, he now sells his aluminum cars (made of wires) that range from P3,000 to P7,000. At this very moment, he still drives while creating aluminum crafts for interested customers.
© henry ngan
“Lahat po nang ginawa ko galing lang sa aking kamay. Wala pong special tools na kasama lahat po handmade kaya po maipagmamalaki ko,” Romanillos said.
(All my creations are handmade, I don’t use any special tools that’s why I’m proud of them).
When asked further if he is going to proceed on a long-term basis with his renewed love for his craft, he told us: “Why not? Years has been passing by and I cannot turn back the time, but I believe I can work on creating different artworks made of aluminum wires in unique design that will inspire other individuals to learn, and perhaps to know my story,” Romanillos said.
*All photos courtesy of Carlito Romanillos